Archive for the 'Parent-to-Parent' Category

Having fun with baby’s first summer

big brother holding little brother on bench

Gray and Finley on Finn’s first road trip

There is a country song with a line that goes, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I always love that line because the first time you do something is so underrated in my eyes. I feel like the last time you do something is always remembered but what about the first? Sure big firsts are remembered such as first words, first day of school, first kiss, and so on, but what about other firsts? Things like the first silly word (my 5-year-old boy calls salad dressing “salad sauce” and it will forever remain salad sauce in our house), your first challenge at school, your first bad kiss, etc.?

little boy playing with sandFirsts are a big deal! As a mom, I try to teach my kids that the firsts are just as important as the lasts. I have two boys (ages 5 years and 16 months). For my little guy’s “first summer” last year I made sure to document and photograph all of his firsts that the summer energy brings. Here are a few of my favorites along with a few notes:

  • First fourth of July (Note: Finley did not care for fireworks)
  • First time experiencing a glow stick
    • Mommy was quick to know Finn wanted to use it as a chew toy
  • First haircut
    • Bribed with snacks to try and stay still.
  • First road trip
    • Colorado at 6 months old.
  • First time feeling sand
  • First time strawberry picking.
    • No help picking the fruit but a big help in eating it.
  • First time camping.
    • Camping “up north” as a rite of passage
  • First time hiking.
    • Sure, he was carried on everyone’s back but still a first nonetheless.
  • First time in a bounce house (How fun is this first?)
  • First time swimming
    • Finley was naked in a bucket but we’re still counting it as first swimming.
  • First time playing at a park
    • Favorite park feature: swings
  • First time at the zoo
    • Loved seeing the polar bears
  • First time at the splash pad
  • First time having a picnic in the backyard
  • First time giving “kisses” to mommy, daddy and brother
  • First time eating peas
  • First time playing on slip and slide

trio of little boy "first" photos

Everyone says that the days go by slow but the years go by fast with children. Ain’t that the truth? I know someday I will look back and think about the last time my kids played on the slip and slide, or went up north, but for now I’m focusing on these first moments.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

What I learned from my daughter’s study abroad experience

mom and daughter close up

I was asked to write an article about what my husband and I did to prepare our daughter for her semester abroad. I tried to write that article; I really did. The problem was that we really didn’t do that much (unless you count the 20 years we spent raising her to be an independent, resourceful, head strong, and intelligent woman). Because she is those things, and because we knew it was a good test of her ability to succeed in a study abroad experience, we didn’t do much of the planning and prep for her semester in France. Instead, we placed that responsibility on her.

If she was going to travel to a foreign country and spend four months (116 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) there without current classmates, family or friends for back-up, we knew she had to be able to plan and organize it herself. That’s not to say she didn’t have support (including a 3 a.m. text only six weeks before she was supposed to leave that started with “I think I screwed up.” She did, but only a little. And she fixed it). But the bulk of the responsibility for the trip was hers. So, while I did little to plan her semester in Europe, there are many things I learned from it.

Trust, but verify

The responsibility for planning, organizing and preparing for a semester abroad was my daughter’s. That doesn’t mean I never checked in. Remember that she was still an adolescent human (she was 19 when she left). She was organized and driven, but she still didn’t have a parent’s life experience (or priorities or concerns). So while she made all of her housing arrangements, we asked questions regarding safety and security. As she made the banking plans, we reminded her of ATM and exchange fees. She prioritized travel opportunities and classes, while we asked her to think about situational awareness and emergency options.

Furthermore, I also learned that following up with her was key. “Have you checked back with the Study Abroad office about which classes will transfer?” “Have you looked at the train schedule to get to Chicago to visit the Consulate for your Visa?” “Have you finalized your budget?” “Did you check with your landlady in France to ensure the deposit wire has been received?” This was key because while the answer was almost always “Yes,” the occasions when it was “Oh shoot, not yet” were the saves she needed made in an exciting, stressful and completely brand-new experience.

I love technology

I’m not a technology geek nor am I anyone’s definition of an early adopter, but I learned that I love technology. Specifically, I love FaceTime and text (and iMessage). Truly the only things that keep me sane with her an ocean away is her response to my “Good Morning” text, the almost weekly FaceTime calls (though I am given to understand that the FaceTime calls with her boyfriend are more frequent), and the pictures of her beautiful face by the London Olympic Rings, the Eiffel Tower, and Edinburgh Castle.

If your child is planning a study abroad experience, the first thing to do (or have your child do) is contact your cell phone provider. Find out what is included in your plan with respect to international services. And find out the cost of what’s not included. That last part is just as important as the first part. Because while my daughter assured me that “she never actually talks on the phone” so the cost of calls was unimportant next to text and data, neither of us considered the job interview calls that would be required by an unexpected internship opportunity. We were fortunate in that our cell plan was incredibly inclusive. If yours is not, remember that there are other options including calling cards and VoIP services like Skype.

Expect the unexpected

OK, well that’s just silly. You can’t expect the unexpected. What you can do is expect that there will be things that come up that you couldn’t possibly have planned for. For example, our daughter got stranded on a week-long holiday to the UK by a freak winter storm. We couldn’t have planned for it. Even the weather people in Europe didn’t see it coming until it hit.

So know that there will be things that happen that are out of everyone’s control. Be there as a support when it happens. Encourage your child to have an Emergency Fund built into his or her budget (my kid did that one on her own — business major that she is). Try to keep calm on your end, which will help him keep calm on his. And remember: You let your child go on the trip because you were confident in her ability to handle the experience; she can handle this too.

That’s not to say that you are no longer needed. While my daughter arranged lodging and food while stranded, negotiated refunds for cancelled transportation and excursions, and booked the three trains and the 27-hour bus ride, complete with a middle of the night Channel crossing, that got her home from the “Beast from the East” storm, she still needed me to counsel her on laundry procedure. Stay flexible, stay available, and you’ll both overcome the sudden obstacles.

We’re both stronger than I knew

And a thought from that previous section brings me to my last lesson. “They can handle this too.” Boy has she ever handled it. She dared things that I’m not sure I’d dare on my own now, let alone when I was barely 20 years old. She handled unexpected circumstances and emergencies with a grace and aplomb that I could learn from. She went alone to a country she had never been to, where most people speak a language she does not, and she made friends, mastered classes, finessed her budget, managed homesickness, and filled her passport. She fed her wanderlust, while still maintaining her safety and her studies.

I wouldn’t have let her go if I didn’t think she had the maturity and resourcefulness to handle it, but she is even more amazing that I realized. And while I would have told everyone I knew that I would spend 116 days paralyzed with fear, I found that I enjoyed watching her fly.

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program staff

Mother’s Day in the NICU

adult hand with NICU infant

Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day of pampering; a day the family goes to brunch. Or your children make you breakfast in bed decorated with flowers they picked themselves. Or maybe you simply spend all day in your pajamas cuddling your little one.

But for moms who have a baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), none of these are an option.

Instead, a NICU mother wakes up in a home without her baby. She quickly gets herself together and hurries through congested streets to the hospital. She checks in at the front desk before entering the guarded door. She diligently scrubs in and shuffles her way down the hall carrying bags of freshly cleaned blankets, onesies and bottles. She passes bed after bed of babies with varying levels of illness, until she finally drops her bags on the well-worn chair she sits in day after day, next to one special crib.

“Good morning, sweetheart!”

There is no sugar coating this. Mother’s Day in the NICU completely and irrevocably stinks.

This year will be my first Mother’s Day, and while I am dreading spending the day in a hospital, I am over-the-moon excited to celebrate.

A few months ago I never imagined I would have anything to celebrate this May because my baby was not expected to survive. But thanks to the wonder of modern medicine, and a few miracles, my baby girl is still with us.

And no one can relate to this grateful feeling better than my fellow NICU moms.

This Mother’s Day, I am guaranteed to be surrounded by an incredible sisterhood. It’s a sisterhood no one wants to be a part of, but when you are, it’s a bond you can never break.

We can talk about blood transfusions, CPAP, RetCam eye exams or the litany of other NICU services with complete understanding and empathy—a feat that is nearly impossible for those who haven’t experienced the Unit.

I can also take comfort in the fact that my daughter is surrounded by top-notch medical professionals. So in case something does go wrong, I know she is in the absolute safest place in the world.

I am going to spend my first Mother’s Day cuddle with my baby while also watching her heart and oxygen monitor to ensure she keeps breathing, and that is OK.

Do I wish I was going out to brunch with my baby? Absolutely.

But, no matter where my child may be, I am a mom.

If you know a mom who will be celebrating Mother’s Day in the NICU, tell them “Happy Mother’s Day” and give them a big hug. Because a NICU mom is also a “NICU warrior.”

– A NICU mom

I’m not a saver

cozy coupe combo

I’m not a saver. I’m a donater, seller and thrower-outer.

Purging the house is therapeutic for me. Civilizing a messy pile or closet gives me great satisfaction. This goes for kid stuff, too. We don’t have a huge house, so if I kept everything they ever received, we’d be that family on the news, “New at 10—Two adults and two children found swallowed by stuff.”

Nope. I’m going to skip to the nearest donation drop-off and leave lighter and happier.

However, I recently sold some of my kids’ toys (with their permission) on the Facebook Marketplace and leading to the items being picked up, I was feeling seller’s remorse. The toys were big items that the kids had long since outgrown, and they were excited to get paid for them. That’s the deal with us: The kids agree to sell and I give them the cash. It works beautifully because we’re usually getting rid of something big, and they buy something small, like LEGO. Win-win.

But I was getting choked up about this one. I felt bad about it. Almost as if I was selling off their childhood. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I couldn’t help feeling that way. Why was I so excited to sell things that held memories?

I had to tell myself that the things don’t have memories. I do. The kids do, and I have photos of all of it.

Then I remembered something that happened 20 years ago. A relative died and we were cleaning out the house. This person was a saver. There was stuff stacked everywhere; some places it was floor to ceiling. It wasn’t garbage or anything disgusting. It was stuff that couldn’t be parted with—antiques, letters, vintage clothes. Stuff that meant something to someone at some point.

But that’s not for me. My memories are in my heart, head and iCloud Drive. It’s the only way I know to keep making room for more. If being a mom has taught me only one thing, it’s to create the best memories you can with the time you’re given, because soon there aren’t any more diapers, pudgy fingers, or room on my lap. All you have left are memories.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Single parents can turn “terrible twos” into “terrific toddler”

crying toddler

Parenting a toddler is a challenging mix of sparkling smiles, sanitizing wipes, and temper tantrums. That special blend can feel especially overwhelming for single parents. Here are some tips for managing the “terrible twos” when you’re flying solo.

It’s normal

The “terrible twos” is a normal phase of child development, but while “normal” is a good thing, it doesn’t mean it’s easy! Testing, temper tantrums and outbursts can sometimes max out even the most patient of parents. It’s important to understand what your little one is experiencing. The Mayo Clinic explains that toddlers act out because they reach a stage where they naturally want to be more independent, but their bodies and brains aren’t cooperating. They want to do things their bodies won’t move to do yet, and they can’t express their needs and desires yet. At the same time, toddlers don’t have the capacity for understanding rules and limitations, disappointment and compromise. So, of course, they express their frustration with tantrums and other bad behavior. Thankfully, with some basic routine and well-defined guidelines, your little one can learn to be well-behaved.

TLC

When you’re portioning out punishment versus affection, let your scales tip on the loving side. Dish out large portions of kisses, hugs and playful shenanigans to ensure your little one feels loved. Reinforce good behavior with lots of praise and attention when your toddler behaves well and adheres to rules.

Soft rule building

Don’t flood your toddler with lots of rules. You’ll create a perfect storm of frustration in an overwhelmed child. Instead, start with a focus on rules geared toward safety, then gradually expand your structure as time goes by. Childproof your home and remove all the temptations you can find to help support your child and set you both up for success.

Temper tantrums

Even with the best of all possible situations, you’re bound to be on the receiving end of temper tantrums on occasion. Here are some tips for navigating those outbursts:

  • Recognize limitations. Your toddler may act out when you’re asking for things she doesn’t understand yet.
  • Explain rules. Instead of telling your little one not to grab toys from others, suggest taking turns and sharing.
  • Don’t say “no” all the time; look for opportunities to say “yes.”
  • Don’t overreact. When your child tells you “No!” don’t let it get to you. As some experts point out, when you become emotional your child only sees the emotion. Repeat requests calmly and try to turn good behavior into fun games, which will be more motivational.
  • Allow your child to choose some things, such as what pajamas to wear or what story to read. This will help your child feel more independent and encouraged.
  • Routine is your friend. University of Missouri Extension explains that routine and structure help your child feel secure, and maintaining a daily schedule will help your child understand expectations.

Stress management
All parents struggle with stress at times, and as a single parent you can’t tag someone in when you’re feeling maxed out. It’s vital to find healthy ways to cope with your stress and not take it out on your child. Some experts suggest maintaining a good self-care program to manage stress levels, and that you brainstorm “the activities that will help you feel relaxed in a healthy way, and try to do at least one a day in order to reduce stress”. Find some healthy outlets including exercising, grabbing lunch with a friend, or reading a good book. Remember this is just a phase and take a deep breath! In the grand scheme of things, those temper tantrums are small and one day you might even miss them. And don’t be too hard on yourself. As RaisingChildren explains, single parents often feel responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. You don’t have super powers and sometimes things won’t be perfect. It’s OK! Don’t set the bar too high and be gentle with yourself.

Terrific toddler

Single parenting is stressful, but you can set yourself and your child up for success with these tips. Provide lots of love, make your expectations practical, keep your routine and enjoy some self-care. Instead of viewing this phase as the “terrible twos,” you can enjoy your terrific toddler!

Daniel Sherwin is a single dad raising two children. On his personal blog, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.

The Tooth Fairy trap

tooth fairy trap

My son lost his tooth recently. It was the first one to come out, so it was kind of a big deal, especially since his twin sister had already cashed in six of her baby teeth.

He’s a creative little boy, always building “machines” out of paper, laundry, bits of string and whatever toy pieces he can cobble together. The contraptions never actually work, but in his imagination, they are mechanically perfect.

So, when we were getting ready for bed and making sure the tooth was in a spot for the Tooth Fairy to find, I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it to get a lot more complicated, but it did.

I noticed that instead of brushing his teeth, he was very busy on the floor of his room. I asked what he was doing and he replied with a mischievous grin, “I’m making a trap for the Tooth Fairy.”

Great.

As if the anxiety of sneaking into a kid’s room at night to keep up the act of a mythical being just so they can have a magical childhood isn’t enough, we go and add this bit of trickery to the mix. I had a flash image in my head of me as Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, easing over and under lasers.

I tried talking him out of it. I asked how he would feel if another kid caught the Tooth Fairy and she couldn’t make it to our house. Or, what if the trap was too hard for her and she just didn’t want to try to get his tooth? And worst of all, what if she couldn’t find the tooth in the trap?

None of these questions phased him. He just nonchalantly shrugged and said, “If I catch her, I’ll let her go in the morning.”

What. A. Poophead.

I even tried “helping” him build the trap so I could be in on the job.

It didn’t do me any good.

I kid you not, I was down on the ground, very nearly with my head on the floor trying to see into this trap to find the tooth.

Nope. Between the carpeting, papers, dirty sock, pajama pants, crane, toy shark cage and roughly 17 clothespins, I couldn’t see a thing.

It was time for the Hail Mary: Let my husband figure it out when he got home that night. After all, he’s an engineer.

When he walked in the door, I briefed him on the situation and showed him a photo of the target holding the asset. (I’ve always wanted to talk military!) He took one look at the photo and said, “So where’s the tooth?”

I just smiled.

We crept down the hallway, careful not to wake either kid. My husband hit the floor when he got into our son’s room. He saw what he was up against, and with great courage, tried to access the trap. Keep in mind, there’s no way to set off this trap. The tooth was merely buried beneath a pile of crap in our kid’s room and we had to extract the tooth and leave the money without tearing the thing apart or waking him up.

After a few minutes of trying, my husband came out of the room empty-handed. Looking at each other, we burst out laughing, which didn’t help us keep things in stealth mode. This is so typical of our son.

Pulling myself together, I crawled into the boy’s room, determined to complete the mission. Face to the floor, I dug through the trap. The pile of the carpeting and rustling of papers made me nervous. The kid shifted in bed. Then, suddenly, there it was! I grabbed it and scurried out.

Victory!

My husband took the next part of the mission leaving two gold dollar coins and even sprinkling a bit of glitter on the floor to look like there was a struggle.

Mission accomplished. Now, just 19 more teeth to go.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Kindness counts

"be kind" in chalk

Sunday marked the beginning of “Random Acts of Kindness” week. Knowing it was coming up, I decided to run a two-week experiment in our household; I’ve heard it takes two weeks to make something a habit.

Our family dinners always include a report of the day by each family member. My husband and I ask our kids to share a banana split (something good about their day) and a banana peel (something hard). A few weeks ago, my husband decided to also ask the kids, “What was something kind you did for someone today?” In theory, this was a great idea! Unfortunately, we sometimes got side tracked by our banana splits/banana peels and forgot to follow up with the kindness question.

For the past two weeks, my husband and I recommitted ourselves to asking our kids every evening at dinner, “How were you kind today?”

Here are some highlights:

  • By the third night, the kids were reporting their kind act without being prompted by the adults.
  • The gestures progressed into more authentic acts of kindness as the two weeks progressed. For example, “I held the door open for my teacher” became “I asked John to sit with me at lunch because he looked unsure about where to sit.”
  • One act of kindness became several acts of kindness throughout the day.
  • By participating ourselves, we modeled a variety of kind acts and that encouraged our kids to show kindness in different ways (to a friend, to a stranger, to themselves, to a pet, etc.).
  • The kind acts began — and I use that term lightly 🙂 — to filter into the kids’ relationships with each other.

In our house, kindness counts. It’s a family value and now it’s become something we all practice daily.

– Andree Palmgren is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Westport, CT. She is also a mom to a 15, 13, 10 and 5-year-old.


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